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Ecological and economic significance of sacred forests of Kachchh, Gujarat: an arid biogeographic province of India

Student Name: Mr Amit Pandey
Guide: Dr Kavita Sardana
Year of completion: 2022

Abstract:

This study attempts to analyze the contribution of two sacred groves of Kachchh region of Gujarat towards the provision of regulating and supporting ecosystem services under the Millennium Ecosystem Service framework. This is relevant for mainstreaming conservation of sacred groves in the region that are threatened due to multiple reasons like removal of biomass from cattle grazing on the fringes of the sacred groves, lack of governmental and community institutions for management of these groves, operational mining by GMDC (Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation) on the adjoining area. This has adversely affecting the overall vegetation and topography and causing huge loss of biodiversity and various micro and macro flora and fauna of the groves.

The study is also pivotal because of the uniqueness of the study-site. This is because on one hand the saline and marshy deserts of Kachchh makes the groundwater levels low and a region less conducive for agriculture but, the presence of perennial water source inside the groves are likely to provide moisture to nearby fields through underground aquifers that could be facilitating agriculture. This study would also add to the existing database of the studies related to the valuation of ecosystem goods and services that highlight economic consequences of decline in ecosystem services initiated under the TEEB-India initiative as a response to The Aichi Convention on Biological Diversity. The study tries to address these gaps by doing the following: (i) developing a management plan for the groves based on stakeholders‘ perception, (ii) measuring the soil carbon and other soil parameters of grove adjoining areas vis-à-vis far off areas using scientific methods and (iii) comparing the agricultural productivity of such land using production function approach.

Based on the global priority index derived from an Analytical Hierarchical Process of stakeholder analysis, the chosen management option calls for restoration of Guggal trees by planting new Guggal saplings and prohibiting cattle grazing so that flow of high levels of ecosystem goods and services are ensured. The study finds evidence of supporting and regulating services provided by the selected sacred groves. Supporting services as captured by agricultural crop yield value due to reduced soil acidity is approximately 0.003% (in terms of percentage increment of agricultural crop yield value due to a percentage reduction in soil acidity) that can be attributed to proximity to sacred groves and regulating services as captured by the soil carbon sequestration potential is approximately 7.74t/ha/depth.